Did the Virgin Mary Chew Coca? Progressive Catholics and Andean Religion in Peru

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 2:10 PM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Matthew Peter Casey, Arizona State University
This paper shows that the progressive Catholics’ contentious relationship with Indigenous religious traditions limited the spread of liberation theology in Peru. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the Church officially recognized Latin America’s rich popular religious traditions as a “great treasure.” But while post-conciliar progressives lauded cultural diversity, they simultaneously promoted “more authentically Christian” expressions. In Peru, those who welcomed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council were the harshest critics of Indigenous religious traditions. For these priests, nuns, and lay activists, the ubiquitous offerings to glacial mountain peaks and celebratory annual feast days were just as oppressive as the economic backwardness and lack of social services that plagued the Andean region. They insisted on orthodox sacramental practice, creating tensions in communities where the Biblical tradition had for centuries lived within Indigenous cosmology. The Jesuit Manuel Marzal was the leader of a generation of progressive priest-anthropologists—including many North American and European missionaries—who came to see these “syncretic” myths and rituals as the primary obstacle to a renewed Andean Church. But the lay pastoral agents who founded ecclesial base communities under the guidance of these priests found themselves at odds with practitioners of unorthodox traditions. The ideological shifts of the 1960s pitted liberation theology against popular Andean Catholicism, severely limiting peasant solidarity for causes like land reform, adult education, and women’s liberation.
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